The Importance of Using a Thesaurus

May 5, 2010

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As state legislatures are busy reviewing a myriad of legislation in the waning days of their legislative sessions, it may become difficult to find or track the legislation in which you are interested.  Many times as practitioners, unless we are true legislative analysts, our knowledge about a particular piece of proposed legislation rivets on the words in an article written by reporters walking the legislative beat. They determine how they can best convey the idea of a bill in “soundbite” wording that may never properly correspond to the wording in the legislation.

One clear example of this problem is the “Parental Liability Waiver bill” in Florida that was recently passed by the legislature and signed into law last week.  The impetus for the law is that the Florida Supreme Court two years ago invalidated such waivers because the state didn’t have a law allowing them. After much debate in the state, the legislature decided to pass a law allowing such waivers.  If you did not have the particular number of this bill (S.B. 2440), you would probably be searching this bill using terms like “Parental waiver” and “liability.”  If you did, you might very well get frustrated in your attempts to find the new law.  For you see, the law never mentions the term “parent.”  The bill discusses the “liability release signed by a natural guardian.”

To lessen the amount of frustration you may be experiencing in your electronic research, don’t forget your old friend, the Thesaurus.**  You can  turn to that book on your shelf that is gathering dust or turn to some type of on-line thesaurus or even click the Thesaurus link located next to  the Search box on Westlaw.

In a Thesaurus you will find terms like Mom, Mother, Dad, Father and Guardian that you can substitute for the term “parent.”  Think of this example the next time you are researching a point of law.  The most popular term for a concept is not the only term for a concept and you may need to broaden the terms you use to make your search more successful.

**WestlawNext leverages the power of WestSearch technology to automatically incorporate other terms commonly associated with your research query.   This post is primarily designed to assist current users.